The sentence of a Colorado truck driver in causing the deaths of four motorists and severe injuries to others got national media attention since it was handed down on December 13. It is an unprecedented case in many respects. Still, the language of the state’s sentencing guidelines limited the judge’s ability to issue a reasonable sentence for an act that was not premeditated and not intentional.
The length of the sentence for four counts of vehicular homicide and 23 other charges was so disproportionate that the prosecution took the unusual step of asking the court to review the sentence. Even family members of the deceased driver made statements condemning the length of the sentence, and 5 million people signed a petition asking for the governor to grant clemency.
Sentence to be reconsidered on January 13
Many assume that the defendant has appealed his case, but this is a hearing by the District Judge who heard the case instead of an Appeals Court Judge. The resentencing hearing will attempt to address the procedural questions that led to the unprecedented nature of the initial sentence, which even the judge said during the initial sentencing was far too severe. Still, in his eyes, the state’s guidelines forced him to issue the sentence.
Both the defense and the prosecution are careful that this new hearing does not interfere with the defendant’s right to appeal. The two sides and the court will research the procedures to observe all proper steps during the January 11 hearing. The prosecution is asking for a sentence in the neighborhood of 20-30 years for the truck driver, who is 26.
Sentencing guidelines can go awry
While this is an unprecedented case, judges are supposed to oversee a fair trial and follow sentencing guidelines, which he attempts to do here. The prosecution often seeks to impose reasonable charges and penalties, which they do here. Criminal defense lawyers fight to protect the rights of the innocent and ensure that sentencing fits the crime if they are guilty. They are doing this here, likely with an eye toward filing an appeal.